“Age is of no importance unless you’re a cheese.” – Billie Burke
Particularly Parmesan, on this occasion.
I have been well-acquainted with the much-loved Parmigiano Reggiano, having had the pleasure of attending a number of unique dining events hosted over the years. An incredibly versatile cheese unlike any other that transcends beyond Italian cuisine, this time we were taken down an exciting ‘East meets West’ taste journey at Angelina in Dalston, known for their crowd-pleasing omakase and kaiseki tasting menus. Utilizing their creative talent, this exclusive event showcased a bespoke fusion menu which married together the unique aromas and flavours of Japanese and Italian cooking, featuring plenty of Parmigiano Reggiano, of course.
Protected Designation of Origin (PDO)
Many pasta and cheese lovers alike will have indulged in copious amounts of Parmesan that can be easily sourced from supermarket shelves, available pre-grated, as shavings or wedges, and although the names Parmesan and Parmigiano Reggiano may be used interchangeably, not all of them may be authentic. Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) is a mark of quality granted only to food products under strict production law within a specific area. Hence, to bear the designation “Parmigiano Reggiano PDO”, the cheese can only be produced in the area of origin, which includes the provinces of Parma, Reggio Emilia, Modena, Mantua, and Bologna, and must adhere to strict traditional methods of production that are safeguarded by a Consortium. Parmigiano Reggiano was recognised as a European PDO in 1996 which was a key step towards the Community protection of Parmigiano Reggiano, one of the most counterfeited and imitated cheeses in the world.
Parmigiano Reggiano Cheese Tasting
The journey of Parmigiano Reggiano dates back to over 1000 years that continues to the present day, the production based on three simple ingredients: milk, salt, and rennet, a natural enzyme from calf intestine.
Although the minimum maturation period of Parmigiano Reggiano is 12 months, its typical characteristics are fully expressed at 24 months, with the ability to further mature for 36 months, 40 months, or even older. We began with a cheese tasting tasting session, each of us served three different chunks with maturation periods of 18 months, 24 months, and 36 months. When tasting Parmigiano Regianno, it is best chunked with the classic almond-shaped knife to enhance its characteristic graininess.
Parmigiano Regianno which has a lower maturation time, such as the 18 month, tend to have a harmonious and delicate flavour with scents of milk, yoghurt, and fresh butter, and is particularly suitable for aperitifs or to enhance salads and cold dishes. At 24 months, the aroma is intensified, striking the right balance between mildness and tastiness, with notes of fresh fruit, nuts and meat stock. The more pronounced crumbliness highlights the characteristic grainy texture of Parmigiano Regianno, and it is perfect for adding flavour to all traditional Italian dishes. At 36 months, the crumbliness is more prominent, boasting aromas of chestnuts and meat stock. With perfectly balanced flavours, it can be enjoyed on its own paired with structured or full-bodied red wines.
It is also naturally lactose free, a natural consequence of the traditional Parmigiano Reggiano manufacturing process – lactose intolerant people, rejoice!
Parmigiano Reggiano Kaiseki Menu
Our ten course feast began with a sourdough focaccia topped with sardines cooked in 18 month Parmigiano Reggiano butter, complemented by citrus notes and a pleasant level of heat from the red kosho. The Hokkaido milk buns were incredibly soft and fluffy as they should be, with a milky-sweet flavour, in between which was sandwiched a sumptuous filling of aubergine, Mortadella, pistachios and 36 month Parmigiano Regianno. Chawanmushi has always been one of my favourite Japanese dishes, a savoury steamed egg custard which usually contains a variety of savoury toppings – served in a dainty ceramic bowl, their levelled-up version contained 24 month Parmigiano Regianno, hazelnuts which added some contrasting textures, and truffle which always puts a smile on my face. We enjoyed these with a sparkling wine from Lombardy (Franciacorta Salvadek, Monterossa, Chardonnay/P. Nero, Lombardy 2015).
The next round of courses included roasted peach with shiso and 18 month Parmigiano Regianno, red prawn with veal and 18 month Parmigiano Regianno, and an indulgent melt-in-your-mouth O-toro, topped with thin slices of lardo and shavings of 36 month Parmigiano Regianno; a delightful combination of umami flavours. I was particularly partial towards the shime saba; beautifully marinated slices of cured mackerel finished with a dollop of yuzu and 18 month Parmigiano Regianno. Paired with these was a vibrant white wine from southern Italy (Greco Di Tufo, Pietracupa, Campania 2019).
I often veer away from deep-fried foods, but I tend to make an exception for tempura, of which we were served two interesting variations; a tempura tomato with anchovy and 18 month Parmigiano Regianno, and the other, shiso with sausage and 24 month Parmigiano Regianno, all held together within a perfectly crisp batter. The tipple of choice was a sparkling red wine made from the best selection of Lambrusco Grasparossa grape (Lambrusco Grasparossa, Bruno Zanasi, Grasparossa, Emilia Romagna, NV).
The highlight of the meal for me, and for quite a few others I’m sure, was undoubtedly the Caramelle; a mouth-watering truffle, furikake and 96 month (!) Parmigiano Regianno filling sealed inside delicate candy-shaped pasta, enjoyed alongside an equally delicious wine from Piedmont, a region of Italy bordering France and Switzerland, known for sophisticated cuisine and wines such as Barolo (Barolo La Foia, Vini Curto, Nebbiolo, Piedmont, 2016).
The lamb dish also went down really well, the meat tender and enhanced by the umami-rich flavours of the anchovy and 24 month Parmigiano Regianno, with an extra punch from the bagna cauda, accompanied by a humble yet moreish grilled carrot. This hearty dish was paired with an aromatic Tuscan red wine (Terre di Vico IGT, Carlo Baccheschi Berti, Sangiovese/Merlot, Tuscany 2013).
We wrapped up the meal with donuts for dessert, served with strawberries, a decadent Parmigiano Regianno gelato (18 month), and hazelnuts, paired with a lusciously sweet Italian dessert wine (Vin Santo Riserva, Capezzana, Trebbiano, San Colombano, Tusacy, 2014).
A word of thanks to Parmigiano Reggiano and Angelina for a marvelous evening – I look forward to returning to the restaurant to enjoy more delicious offerings. And as for my wedge of Parmigiano Reggiano which is currently staying cool in my fridge, I’ve yet to decide what creative route to go down with it – failing that, I’m sure that I will enjoy devouring it just as well on its own with a nice glass of wine (or two) in hand.
- My experience was complimentary – views and photos are my own.